Category Archives: Haacht

#247 – Tongerlo Christmas

#247 - Tongerlo Christmas

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 6.5 %

I have slowly been working my way through the Tongerlo collection; a fact made more noticeable by the recent re-marketing of the beers and adaptation of styles. I first tried the very average Tripel Blonde (#30) where I was able to introduce the brewing at the Abbey. I then followed up with the slightly better Dubbel Bruin (#137); and a look at the Norbertine monks. The latest offering is the Tongerlo Christmas beer, and now a closer look at the history of the Abbey.

The religious community at Tongerlo was formed in 1133 by a group of monks from the Norbertine Abbey of St Michael of Antwerp, who had been invited by the wealthy landowner Giselbert Castelre to settle on his Tongerlo estate. The monks were characterised by the Norbertine traditions which was a popular and modern movement at the time. The Abbey grew in power through the 13th Century as a papal bull placed Tongerlo at the centre of a number of parish churches in the region. Numbers soon grew on the estate and the community began to spread itself wider. The remit of the Abbey steadily became more powerful, and the buildings grew in size with the best local architects enhancing the beauty of the place.

The rise to prominence was only checked in the 16th Century when the Abbey fell under the strongly Catholic stronghold of ‘s-Hertogenbosch.Rome began to increase taxes and salaries from Tongerlo considerably, and it was only in 1629 under the Calvinist revolt that Tongerlo was spared. It was probably a case of ‘better the devil you know’ however as the Calvinists banned all Catholic worship and many monks were exiled away from their parishes. Things became even worse in 1796 when the French Revolution swept into town and the Abbey came under private ownership. It was as late as 1838 when the Belgian state came into being, that a religious community found its way back to Tongerlo. The brothers have largely remained ever since; with just a brief sojourn at the Abbey of Leffe when a huge fire swept through and destroyed many of the buildings in 1929.

The Tongerlo Christmas is not your traditional dark Christmas fayre. It pours a rusty copper colour with a small and unassuming head. The hint of vanilla on the nose wasn’t completely lost on me, although I struggled to reach the same conclusion once it hit my tastebuds. It was a fairly fruity and enjoyable beer which just lacked any unique characteristics which might have led me to recommend it any further. Essentially if Father Christmas was buying you a sack full of Christmas beers this yuletide you might be a bit disappointed with too many of these.

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Filed under 7, Abbey Beer, Belgian Ale, Christmas Beer, Haacht

#246 – Mystic Limoen

#246 - Mystic Limoen

Size: 250 ml

ABV: 3.8 %

I often feel small pangs of guilt when having to write the odd bad thing about a beer; I mean at the end of the day it’s just my opinion right? There is however, a moment every so often, when you come across a beer which is crying out to be slam-dunked in the public forum. I have therefore absolutely no compunction whatsoever in advising every discerning and non-discerning beer drinker to steer well clear of the Mystic Limoen.

Any self-respecting beer aficionado of course wouldn’t need me to tell them this but there is clearly a market for the Mystic beers otherwise the brewers Haacht, and the number of other similar purveyors of these alcopops wouldn’t pollute the market with them. I would though like to bring to the attention of those who might fancy a brief dalliance with these beers, exactly what goes into them, because it certainly aint just barley, water, hops and yeast. According to the official ingredients you will also find the sinister sounding Acesulfame K among other dubiously unnatural additives.

I remember having a long conversation once with a homeopath about diet drinks and artificial sweeteners. The general view was that chemical additives such as aspartame end up pickling your internal organs if drunk in excess, and I’ve been cautious ever since. I decided therefore to have a quick look at Ace-K, or Acesulfame Potassium, or Sunett or Sweet-One as it is also more familiarly marketed as in the US. It has been an officially approved sweetener since 1988; approved that is by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the USA. Remarkably Ace-K is two hundred times sweeter than table sugar and therefore has been widely used in carbonated drinks alongside other high street sweeteners, whereby a combination of both can often reduce the natural bitterness. That is about all the good news.

The bad news is that this is an additive which has barely been properly tested. Although the FDA in the USA and similar bodies in Europe will deny any concerns, Ace-K contains methylene chloride which is generally held to have carcinogenic properties. Aside from cancer, long term exposure to this compound can cause headaches, depression, nausea, mental confusion, liver and kidney dysfunction, and visual disturbances. Tests conducted on rats over three months showed that an administration of acetoacetamide (a breakdown product) caused benign tumours. The FDA argue that further tests have proved inconclusive, in particular a study by the  National Toxicology Program where 60 rats were exposed to massively high does of Ace-K and did not contract tumours. Either way, there is clearly some concern over these additives, and it is generally accepted that Ace-K is one of the most under-tested and potentially most dangerous of the artifical sweetener family.

I’m not stating a case either way but one thing is for sure; that sweeteners such as Ace-K have no place in the world of beer, or certainly not the beer world which I want to live in. The Mystic Limoen was a dreadful experience in its own right, but when you consider the potential implications on your health of drinking beverages like this it just further adds to your woe. The irony of potentially poisoning the very punters that keep them in business at least raised something of a smirk; which is at least more than the beer or this story did.

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Filed under 4, Fruit Beer, Haacht

#137 – Tongerlo Dubbel Bruin

#137 - Tongerlo Dubbel Bruin

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 6 %

This is the second dabbling I have had with the beers of Tongerlo, my first stop being the Tongerlo Tripel Blonde (#30) which gave me a chance to introduce the Abbey which so elegantly adorns the beers labels. The abbey is famous for its Norbertine traditions, but just what sets aside a Norbertine from say a Cistercian, or a Trappist?

It all stems funnily enough from St. Norbert, who was a migrant preacher that founded the religious community of Premontre in France in 1121. The influential teachings here spread like wildfire, and the Norbertines or Premonstratensians were soon involved in the beginnings of Tongerlo Abbey in 1133. You may also recall he was the founder of Grimbergen Abbey (#8).

The main difference in the Norbertines of the Premonstratensian order was that they weren’t exactly monks, they were canons regular. It’s a subtle difference, one in which I am trying manfully to get my head round – especially as the orders and expectations manifest themselves so differently through time. Essentially the Norbertines originally based their traditions on the Cistercian (#94), and Augustinian ways, in that they were seeking a more austere way of being, but fundamentally they acted as canons regular, and therefore did not lead the true monastic contemplative life. They had far more responsibility in looking to minister to those outside the abbeys, and were if you like, the link between the inner sanctum of the monks, and the wider secular clergy. A subtle difference but one which saved the canon regulars from the long choral duties, and systemic moral reproofs which characterised the monks lives.

At the end of the day though, they were bonded by the brewing of the beer, and I say amen to that. The Tongerlo Dubbel Bruin itself was a safe brown. Thinner and fizzier than I expected, but with the subtle maltiness that you expect from a decent brown beer. At 6% it didn’t have the kick of some darker Belgians but is one I wouldn’t have a problem drinking again.

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#134 – Keizer Karel Rouge

#134 - Keizer Karel Rouge

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 8.5 %

We first met Charles Quint (Keizer Karel Blonde #39) 95 beers ago. That seems an age ago now, and many historical figures have come and gone since, but good old Charles always liked a beer, and this is partly why he is so revered by the Belgian beer community.

We already know that Charles spent most of his time in Spain, but he also liked to get out and travel across his Empire, especially finding time to get home. Legend has it on one such night in a little village called Olen near Antwerp, he found an inn serving his favourite tipple. The innkeeper brought a mug of beer to his table and held it by its handle as he handed it across. Charles felt it was inappropriate to handle it in this way, and so asked the innkeeper to return with the beer in a mug with two handles. The patient landlord duly returned carrying the heavy cup with both hands, still leaving Charles with no free handle to take the glass from him. Charles is said to have then paid the innkeeper handsomely in gold to go away and have a cup made with three handles – especially for him to be able to accept the drink like a gentleman.

If you go to Olen, there is a statue of this famous beer glass, and it is possible in the right places to drink Keizer Karel/Charles Quint beers out of this three-eared style tankard. The locals have also, rightly or wrongly, garnered quite a reputation for their lack of intellectual prowess. All this because of a 16th Century innkeeper!

The beer itself wasn’t unlike the last one I had drunk (#133), in that it was dark, malty and of an aniseed persuasion, which to be honest I certainly wasn’t expecting. It was eminently more fizzy though and once through the thickset head, it ended up being a perfect supper time tipple.

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Filed under 7, Belgian Strong Ale, Haacht

#92 – Abbaye de Malonne Brune

#92 - Abbaye de Malonne Brune

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 6.3 %

There isn’t much more to be said about the Abbaye de Malonne which I feel I amply covered when introducing the blonde (#14). There is going to come a time when I run out of things to talk about a beer that is as indistinguished as this, but rather than rush off it would be worth taking some time to look at the range of brown beers, and in particular those from Belgium.

It would be easy to look down any supermarket aisle these days and see brown ales as the minority; beer made for the discerning gentlemen only, however historically beer has almost always been brown. This was until the 20th Century when technology started to improve. In fact in Belgium in the 1930s, 80% of beer was brown. I would hazard a guess that these days the variety of brown beer in Belgium would be as low as 25%.

Belgium was world famous for its early brown beers, with varieties such as oak aged browns from Oudenaarde, and Trappist dubbels (#16). As we have already seen in other tales though, the rise of blonde beers and lagers began as these were cheap and simple to make, and the brown beer began to fall in popularity. In fact, one might even argue that was it not commonplace these days for breweries to make a range of beers to satisfy all their customers then there may have been even less around. The quality though of course can be up for question in many of these, where brewers have found simple ways to turn blonde beers to brown with the simple switch of a button.

The above issue does illustrate a pertinent point however; that of brown beers being generally made from similar ingredients. Darker forms of malt, or a higher concentration of caramelised sugars can turn any beer brown, and these are often used as a replacement for hops to attain the preferred degree of bitterness. I have always been a massive fan of the Belgian brown ale, although have been quickly learning on my Odyssey that just because it is brown it does not guarantee quality. I would advocate that the Abbaye de Malonne Brune is a decent example of this.

It was a particularly dark beer, almost stout-like in appearance, although my final impression was that of prune juice. It was silky and soft on the palate, but the flavour never really got going and was particularly limited. Compare this to something like the complexity of a St. Bernardus Abt (#46), and you can understand where this beer sits in the pantheon of brown beers in Belgium – inherently pleasant but distinctly average – although better than the blonde of course.

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Filed under 6, Abbey Beer, Abbey Dubbel, Haacht

#39 – Keizer Karel Blonde

#39 - Keizer Karel Blonde

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 8.5 %

If you studied 16th century history you may know Keizer Karel or Charles Quint by a different name – Emperor Charles V. His realm was so large at one point that it was popularly described as one in which the sun never sets – in actual fact it spanned almost four million square kilometres. He was notably the most powerful man in the world during the mid 1600s as both the Holy Roman Emperor and King of Spain, and all her foreign lands. Why then was this leading figure of world history so associated with Belgian beer?

The answer lies in his heritage. He was born in 1500 in Ghent and was brought up in Mechelen, Brussels and Leuven – all fiercely proud Flemish cities, and at the age of just six, he inherited his father’s territories of the lowlands and Franche-Comte. His Aunt Margaret acted as regent until he was 15 years old, and Charles then took over in full force, adding a number of new territories to a new unified lowlands of which he was the ruler – this included his birthplace of Flanders, levered away from the French. Although he spent the majority of his time in Spain and her outlying lands, his heart was always in the place of his birth, and he ensured a unified nation for his heirs when he eventually abdicated in 1556 and then passed away in 1558.

The brewers Haacht have celebrated the reign of Charles Quint through two beers which symbolise the power of his Empire. This Keizer Karel Blonde symbolises the pure morning light of the rising of the sun on one side of his realm, while the Keizer Karel Rouge (#134) represents the ruby red of the warm evening shimmer as the sun sets on the other. There are other stories about good old Charles Quint, and I will save them for later as it isn’t just Haacht who celebrate this man on a beer label – some go much much further.

Good little beer this. Actually drunk a couple of months after the best before date but still tasted remarkably fresh. A great strong fruity aroma on opening, and a very clear pale golden pour with barely any head. What looked slightly insipid initially was eventually very pleasant on the tastebuds with the 8.5% clearly evident. Fruity and sweet with undertones of vanilla ice-cream, this went down far too well. I Just wish I’d had another waiting in the fridge.

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#30 – Tongerlo Tripel Blond

#30 - Tongerlo Tripel Blond

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 8 %

The date on the label of the Tongerlo beer says 1133. If I’m not mistaken that’s – er – 876 years of brewing beers? Apparently true.

The monastic community of the Norbertine Abbey of Tongerlo was founded in the same year, and like all good monks, they didn’t mess around in getting the beers brewed. We have Abbot Waltman and Bishop Burchard of Kamerijk to thank for this, and the subsequent rise of Tongerlo abbey as a powerful centre of religion and culture.

The usual history affected the abbey throughout the middle ages with secular powers and Calvinism haranguing the occupants, but it was only eventually World War I that put a final nail in the coffin of the brewing at the abbey, when the German occupying forces looted the abbey of the copper stills to make armaments. It was only in 1989 that the beer was re-launched by Haacht, and the Norbertine traditions (#137) were once more reignited in this beautiful area.

With a seriously blocked nose it probably wasn’t wise to waste a beer as I was unlikely to taste much, but I doubted it would be a classic. The beer poured golden with an initially thick head, with not much of a smell and to be honest not much of a taste (who knows?). This seemed a fairly routine blonde which definitely tastes of 8% but remains fairly anonymous. Pretty average fare in all with bit of a kick to it. I blame the Germans 😉

(Post-Script) – I have since learnt that this beer is now retired, to be replaced by the stronger and yet untested Tongerlo Prior Tripel.

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Filed under 6, Abbey Beer, Abbey Tripel, Haacht